Nick Matteucci on trimming times, keeping the ball rolling

| Senior Sports Editor

Nick Matteucci is a senior on the track and field team. He is a seven-time All-American on the track, running distance events, and a two-time academic All-American off the track. After finishing second in the country in the mile last year behind the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Zach Lee, he has picked up right where he left off this season. He has the fastest mile time in Division III currently and he appears to be the man to beat in the event. I sat down with Matteucci to talk about camaraderie on the track team and how he gets the most out of his seasons.

Courtesy of Tim Farrell

Senior Nick Matteucci comes out of a turn during a recent race. Matteucci finished second at national championships last season, running the mile in 4:07.99, just 1.77 seconds behind the winner, who has now graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

StudLife: How close was [last year’s mile] race at nationals?

Nick Matteucci: It was pretty close. Really, we were neck and neck until the last 200 meters and he pulled away by a second or so. It was a tight race. But yeah, he played it perfectly. It was fun to just compete against him and to really get a chance. If it was an easy victory, what fun would that be? It’s fun when you get a chance to really go at it. And if someone’s better then someone’s better. I just want for myself to be in the best position I can be and I can’t really control who else is out there. But yeah, I definitely want to try to go for the best I can. There’s some other really talented athletes in the field. That makes it more fun and makes it more satisfying when things go well.

SL: How do you train? What’s the process of shaving seconds off an already incredible time like?

NM: We have an incredible coach, Coach Stiles. He’s been coaching here for 19 years. He really just knows what he’s doing. He’s incredible. Honestly, he’s been an amazing mentor, I couldn’t have asked for a better person to work with. We also have this great group dynamic. We have a lot of guys that are all training together. We have certain workouts that we’ll do, we have certain runs. I mean, we run every day. [Coach Stiles] has all sorts of ideas of how we can fine-tune, like you were saying. At some point, how do you start trimming off seconds when it’s getting harder and harder to start trimming them down? He knows how to do it, it just takes a little more patience. It’s not going to happen overnight, there’s not going to be one little thing that you do that all of a sudden culminates into this big success. It’s lots of work over a long period of time. The only way it’s going to happen is if you have a coach who really knows you and cares about your well-being as well as your performances and also a team that can support you throughout it all. We’re hoping to continue to get a little better each year and get a little better each day. And hopefully, the net trend will be something that we’re excited about.

SL: You mentioned the idea of the team dynamic. Track and field seems to me like a very individual sport. What’s it like trying to form a team in a sport like that?

NM: That’s the biggest misconception about track and field in my opinion. There is a team trophy at the end, that’s something that I think people don’t realize. They do score track meets. That’s something that we’re always striving for. But it’s more than just that. While you are individually scoring or finishing the race, you’re working together day in and day out. Our practices, every day, we run together for hours. Some days, we’re working out on the track and it’s hard. There’s a lot of camaraderie that’s formed in that. A lot of wonderful relationships are forged. When there is a team aspect of it and there’s a team sport, if you’re not realizing that then you’re—in my opinion and the people on my team’s opinion—you’re missing out on a big motivator right there. If you’re only in it for yourself, when it starts getting hard, you might start to wonder, “Why am I doing this anymore? Why not just give up?” [When] you have people who are relying on you and counting on you, [when] we’re all working towards this common goal, then all of a sudden, it’s a much different story.

SL: Is that an attitude that is fostered or one that forms naturally on a team?

NM: It’s definitely fostered. Stiles makes it clear from day one. And that’s something that makes him such a great coach, in my opinion. He’s not the type of person who’s just going to focus on the top athletes and the other ones aren’t super important. Or he’s not the type of person who’s going to try to get inner competition making this negative atmosphere where you’re trying to compete against your teammates because you’re trying to keep a spot or something. No, it’s very much an idea of family. And that’s something that he wanted to ingrain [from] day one. When [we] first come here as freshmen, most of us aren’t used to that. We might have even still thought track was an individual sport a lot of times. So coming in and having this, at first it takes a little bit to adjust to this really strong team focus, perhaps. But over time, you start to see people really dig in and when they do, it leads to better results, usually for them and for the whole group. And they also take away a lot more, they enjoy it a lot more and makes the whole experience that much better. And you walk away, not just with experience, but now with a huge group of family and a dynamic that is so unique. I didn’t even know what I signed up for. I came because I like to run and compete and sure enough, I found this incredible group, and that’s been the most rewarding part of it for me.

SL: Switching gears a little bit, you were also an academic All-American in your sophomore and junior years?

NM: Yes.

SL: You’re a chemical engineering major?

NM: Yes.

SL: How do you balance being excellent in track and field and cross country along with excellence in the classroom?

NM: I’m not going to pretend like it’s easy. But, you know, it’s about finding those things that you love, and having a support network really helps in this regard too. It’s not like we go to practice and then we never see each other. We live together, we eat together, we study together, we work together. You come into this group, and you see all these really talented people who are pursuing all of their academic interests as well as their athletic interest. It’s not like they come here and they’re just like, reserved and just training and then never caring about what happens. No, they want to be the best in the classroom and the best on the field. When you come into an environment like that, it’s contagious…It makes for this incredible dynamic that I think really just leads to good results across the board. You’ll see our track and field teams have really high cumulative [GPAs] across the team. And that’s not necessarily the only academic measure, of course, but I think it’s [indicative] of people who are just really dedicated and passionate about what they do and just wanting to do [it] at the highest level possible.

SL: What does the typical day for Nick Matteucci look like? I want to get a sense of how you split your time.

NM: Yeah, absolutely. In track, it’s a little funny because we’re kind of practicing at a lot of different times. So it’s a little harder to give you a full idea. The main thing is, we usually will have practice in the afternoon. Some days, you might double in the morning—so you’ll do a short run in the morning; you’ll probably meet up with some friends. It’ll be like 30 minutes, and you’ll just do an easy, relaxed run. Then, you’ll go to class like normal, you’ll eat, you’ll do all your normal things: study, do homework. And then usually around 4:15 is when we have practices or workouts, and so the whole team will meet up and we’ll have a brief meeting with our coach. He’ll go over some stuff that is happening. And then we’ll do drills and go do our run. And that can vary drastically. Some days, it could be a relatively shorter run where people might be doing 30 to 45 minutes and on other days—like our long run on Monday mornings that we’ll do—for some guys that will be anywhere from 70 to 80 minutes to two hours. That’s sort of what it looks like. We’ll be running around campus. We’ll be running in Forest Park, we’re running downtown, some guys will run to the Arch and back in. So there’s all sorts of different routes and fun things that we do. On workout days—these will happen usually two times a week—what will happen is we’ll do a quick warm up, we’ll end up at the track and then Stiles will have some prescribed workout where we’ll be doing some number of laps or some sort of repeats. If he sees something is going well, he might have you adjust. Like, “Why don’t we pick it up a little bit, see if we can get a little more out of it?” Sometimes people are a little fatigued. Wash. U. is challenging. And things come up in life. All of a sudden someone’s lost a loved one or something happened and all of a sudden you have to make adjustments on the fly. You might see someone’s clearly just emotionally drained, and say “Why don’t we take a rep off or why don’t we go a little easier on this?” Some coaches might see this as him going light on them; really, he’s allowing them to recover. What benefit are you going to get if that person can’t do the workout properly and then they get injured or they’re just falling apart and they’re emotionally and mentally not confident about going forward, instead of making the adjustments to set them up to be the best they can at the end of the season. It’s not about making everything happen in one workout or one day, it’s about, as Stiles always says, keeping the ball rolling. We just want to keep things rolling and not get stopped up because we tried to do too much too fast.

SL: I imagine that the point of the invitational season is mostly to trim down times and get ready for nationals?

NM: Yeah, exactly. That’s also where you qualify [for nationals]. Also, conferences [are] another big one that’s really important to us. We’re in the UAE and it’s a cool combination of really talented academic schools but also very talented DIII schools for running as well.

SL: With the invitationals leading up to conferences and nationals, are there different things that you work on as opposed to when you’re just practicing?

NM: Totally. It depends on what event you’re doing. This is very much from a distance perspective. If you go talk to someone who throws or someone who pole vaults or someone who jumps or someone who sprints, they’re all going to have unique things that they’re doing in their schedule that’s different from us. Each group is kind of taking the invitationals as an opportunity to compete. That’s why we do this. We want to compete. When we get these invitationals, they give us the opportunity to compete at a high level and to get better each week,

SL: You mentioned running the mile as well as the 3K. How does training vary between different events?

NM: It varies quite drastically. Even in the distance side of things, you have people that are doing very different things. If you’re training for the 10K, which is roughly 6.2 miles, and you’re training for a mile or half mile, it’s going to be very different training that you need. We’re going to be focusing more on some of the faster stuff now. General training days might be similar. If we’re just doing an easy run, if you’re a 10K runner or a mile runner, you can do those together. But generally, when we’re doing workouts and stuff, we might need different things. You also might need different amounts of mileage. Someone racing the mile might not need that much more than 50 miles in a week, whereas someone racing the 10K might be trying to do 70, 80, 85, 90 miles a week. It’s not to say that they’re working harder. It’s just that they need different sorts of things…It’s cool when you see you’re doing all these very different trainings with very different coaches, but all come together and we all have the same goal.

SL: You’re now in the second semester of your senior year. What’s been your favorite memory? What are you going to take with you?

NM: Oh man, I hate this question. I’ve really been just super blessed these past four years and it’s not fair…Like, I’ve had so many wonderful memories over the years. So try to pick one. It’s always really tough. One that stands out: It was my sophomore year and we’d really been excited about the DMR, the distance medley relay. And it’s cool because you take all these events that don’t normally go together at all and you put them together into one relay and it’s super fun. You have a 400, an 800, a 1200 and a mile, all kind of clashed together into this one relay. We had one last chance to qualify for the national meet. We had told our guy in the 1200, who had been injured for a long time, “Hey, we just need you to run a 3:05 at making it.” And he goes out and runs 3:01, so way faster than we needed him to and all of a sudden, we knew that we not only had a great chance, but we would be really in and really have an opportunity to go for it at the national meet. Watching this ragtag relay come together and everyone just put forth these incredible performances. It wasn’t even that we ran an incredible time—actually set the school record in the event—it was that we had this camaraderie that was so incredible and these long hugs afterwards. All the teammates who weren’t even on the relay are coming over and they’re so excited because they knew the story and they knew how hard we worked. It all somehow came together in this Disney-esque fashion. I think it just highlights this family atmosphere that is just so fun that even people who might not have been ever been on the DMR recognize how cool that was, and just all the bonds you’ve formed over four years on the track and off the track kind of came together into this really loving and awesome moment. So that had to be one of my favorite moments of college.

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